TEMPE – Energy was high during Monday’s Arizona State Pro Day on Monday at the Verde Dickey Dome as those who declared for the draft showcased their skills for scouts ahead of next month’s NFL Draft.
Although players were jockeying for position on team draft boards, the Sun Devils teammates came together to support each other during individual and team drills. From yelling at scouts for a better measurement to hyping each other on the bench press, the NFL hopefuls knew the importance of the showcase, especially for those who had not invited to the annual NFL Scouting Combine.
NFL scouts evaluated the potential prospects in the bench press, vertical jump and 40-yard dash. Although there were also some football drills, a majority of the day focused on the athletic capability.
Running back Xazavian Valladay put on a show for the scouts, completing 22 bench-press repetitions of 225 pounds and running a 4.43 40-yard dash. His 40-yard dash would have finished among the top seven at this year’s Combine.
Most surprising, however, was Valladay’s 40-inch vertical – an ability that will no doubt be underscored in some scouting notes.
“I’m very satisfied with what I did,” Valladay said. “I just wanted to make a big statement, and I did that. Over the last three months, you’re training and you do things and set goals for yourself. Being able just to show my versatility and athleticism, that’s what I was trying to do.”
Last season, the 6-foot, 200-pound Valladay ran for 1,192 yards and led the Pac-12 in rushing touchdowns with 16. He will likely hear his name called on draft day but remains focused on improving his craft leading up to the draft.
“The first thing you look at on Valladay’s resume is his production,” said Cole Topham, Arizona State football writer for Devils Digest and draft reporter for The Chargers Wire. “When you just put the ball in his hands, he’s going to get yards and that tough production that not a lot of backs can get.”
ASU’s defensive captains, linebackers Kyle Soelle and Merlin Robertson, each improved their case to scouts on their pro day. Soelle, whose athleticism from the start of the scouting process has been questioned by scouts, ran a 4.72 at the linebacker position – faster than the 4.9 Soelle said people had him projected to run. During football-oriented drills, Soelle looked quick and explosive.
Soelle, who led the Pac-12 in tackles per game at 10, has been a leader of ASU’s defense since his sophomore year. The fifth-year senior has a chip on his shoulder because he was not invited to the NFL combine, something he believes he deserved.
“I still feel like I am one of the best linebackers in this upcoming draft,” Soelle said, “I’m an athlete overall, and I think people question my athleticism. I think I knocked those questions out the door today.”
Robertson, named on the preseason Butkus Award Watch List and an honorable mention by the Pac-12, has played 3,305 career snaps – most among active linebackers in the FBS and fourth-most of any active defensive player in the FBS.
Robertson looked solid on his pro-day, demonstrating his balance between strength and skill.
“I wanted to show that I could move,” Robertson said, “I really wanted to show my explosiveness throughout my drops and my hands.”
Despite ASU’s subpar 3-9 record, a handful of Sun Devils have a chance to follow a list of former players to make an impact at the next level. Over the last four years, former Sun Devils such as Brandon Aiyuk, Jack Jones and Rachaad White have found success in the NFL.
The latest class of Sun Devils hopes to take that step next.
“They’re probably not going to go has high as we saw Rachaad White or Jack Jones last year,”
Topham said. “I do think all those players had a good day today and definitely didn’t do anything to hurt their stock at all throughout the process, compared to those who got to go to the combine or received those all-star showcase invites.”